Swallowing is a basic bodily function that is easy to take for granted. Because most people swallow without effort, it can be easy to forget that swallowing is a complex mechanical process that requires multiple muscles and nerves. Many people deal with problems swallowing, also known as swallowing dysfunction, as they get older, but that doesn’t make the problem any less scary. Read on to learn more about swallowing dysfunction so you and your doctor can find the right solution.
What Causes Swallowing Problems?
Difficulty swallowing (also called dysphagia) can be caused by a variety of different issues. The first step to determining the cause of your problem is to identify which part of your body is creating your symptoms.
First of all, problems related to your esophagus or digestive system such as acid reflux (GERD) can cause swallowing dysfunction. If you are experiencing stomach pain, digestive problems, or heartburn in addition to your swallowing difficulties, investigate these issues with your doctor.
Nervous system conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) often begin with swallowing difficulties. These problems are serious, and early detection is crucial. If you develop swallowing problems and are also experiencing numbness, pain, or lack of mobility in other parts of your body, see a doctor right away.
Signs of a Swallowing Disorder
Because swallowing dysfunction can be caused by a variety of issues, it can present with a variety of symptoms. General signs of a swallowing problem include coughing during or after eating, a wet or strained voice after eating, and having a hard time breathing after eating. People with this condition might also get food stuck in their mouth or have issues keeping food in their mouth.
People who have problems swallowing may also be limiting their food intake without even realizing it. Weight loss is a common sign of a swallowing disorder, especially in the elderly. Secondary symptoms due to a lack of food intake are also common signs of a swallowing disorder, such as dehydration or nutritional deficiencies. Patients may also experience food going into the lungs or airways, which can cause lung infections or even pneumonia.
Because eating is often a social activity, these problems can be embarrassing and lead to isolation. If you are caring for an elderly person who suddenly wants to eat alone, have a doctor evaluate their swallowing.
Visiting a Doctor
If you or someone in your care is dealing with a swallowing problem, seek medical help. Before offering a treatment plan, a doctor will perform tests to determine the cause of a person’s swallowing dysfunction. These tests can include X-rays, swallowing tests, endoscopies, or CT scans.
These tests can sound intimidating, but they will allow doctors to determine the exact cause of the swallowing problem. After diagnosis, your doctor will create a treatment plan to help ease your symptoms. Treatments might include medication, surgery, physical therapy, or speech therapy.
If you are having problems swallowing, don’t wait to find relief.
Contact Dr. Michael Burnett at 212-867-4813 to schedule an ENT appointment today.